15 June 2008

Against the Day

Notes on the fourth part of Against the Day (see also Part One, Part Two, and Part Three).

Since I've finished, it's been interesting to think about how the multitude of characters and locations actually serve to diminish distances. Yes, it's a sprawling, expansive, huge novel--but reading large chunks at once really left me with the impression of the tightly knitted, interconnected nature of global community. Nothing happens in isolation, but is a consequence of other occurrences, decisions, and seemingly "random" events.

It's also interesting that although the focal point of the novel is World War I, we never actually see it take place. Rather, the narrative deals with the events that lead up to it and then the aftermath.

~ p. 735: Dally's dilemma about Kit:
What did she want? Wasn't this just Merle all over again? That alchemy, the magic crystals, the obsessive assaults on the Mysteries of Time, she'd really believed once that she had to get away from that before it drove her as crazy as her Pa, and now, would you just look, here she was getting it back, here was another lunatic, somebody this time leaving her, to go search for an invisible city over the edge of the world.
~ p. 738: Andrea Tancredi rails against the massive buying and selling of art (what Scarsdale Vibe is up to, because after all, everything comes back to chasing light):
"It's not the price tag," Tancredi cried, "it's what comes after--investment, reselling, killing something born in the living delirium of paint meeting canvas, turning it into a dead object, to be traded, on and on, for whatever the market will bear. A market whose forces are always exerted against creation, in the direction of death."
~p. 744: An artist's redemption:
He was a virtuous kid, like all these fucking artists, too much so for the world, even the seen world they were trying to redeem one little rectangle of canvas at a time.
~ p. 749: From Yashmeen's letter to her "father":
"For what mission have I here, in this perilous segment of space-time, if not somehow to transcend it, and the tragic hour into which it is passing?

"Mathematics once seemed the way--the internal life of numbers came as a revelation to me, perhaps as it might have to a Pythagorean apprentice long ago in Crotona--a reflection of some less-accessible reality, through close study of which one might perhaps learn to pass beyond the difficult given world."
~ p. 757: An amusing exchange:
"Fond of the English, are you sir."

"I love Gweat Bwitain! Lord Salisbuwy is my wole model!"
~ p. 761: The curse of Tamerlane's tomb

~ p. 762: "Invisible birds, collecting against the night, sang boisterously."

~ p. 777: Lieutenant Prance sets Kit straight on the matter of American history--how political or economic motives are exposed as religious ones.

~ p. 779: The Tunguska event becomes one of the central moments of the novel, affecting all characters and upsetting the balance of nature. It's fascinating how Pynchon explores the possible implications of a historical fact, tying together the various mathematical theories and ideas that coalesce throughout the story. Reading this list of literary references to the event, I was a little surprised by the connection that is made:
Thomas Pynchon's book Against the Day, puts forth a complex explanation for the Tunguska event, centering around the idea that an expedition near the North Pole unearthed a sentient geological being which, after being transported to the Tunguska area, proceeded to unleash rage-fueled destruction on the humans that transported him.
It looks like I'm going to have to reread it (someday), because I did not pick up on that at all. (This probably has something to do with the fact that it took me nearly a year to make it half-way, and then only a few weeks to finish the rest.)

~ p.782: Someone's conclusion about the Event's cause:
"Exactly what I'm saying. Time-travel isn't free, it takes energy. This was an artifact of repeated visits from the future."
~ p. 793: Shambhala is revealed in the aftermath of the Event, but then so are the Chums:
What it would take the boys longer to understand was that the great burst of light had also torn the veil separating their own space from that of the everyday world, and that for the brief moment they had also met the same fate as Shambhala, their protection lost, and no longer able to count on their invisibility before the earthbound day.
This is another thing I didn't fully realize: the Chums of Chance are fictional characters to this world of "real" people. Fictions within the fiction, finally exposed.

~ p. 794: The theory that Tesla had something to do with it is discussed. (The Tom Swift reference is particularly funny.)

~ p. 805: "As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility, and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucinaion, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day."

~ p. 809: A nice little history lesson describing the events leading up to WWI. (Much more intelligible than what gets stuck into history texts these days.)

~ p. 815-16: Yashmeen on the verge of her revelation:
Just for the instant, the matter was illuminated, unequivocally, something as obvious as Ramanujan's Formula--no, something of which Ramanujan's Formula was a special case--revealed why Riemann should have hypothesized one-half as the real part of every ζ(0), why he had needed to, at just that point in his thinking...she was released into her past, haunting her old self, almost close enough to touch--and then of course it was gone again and she was more immediately concerned with the loss of her hat [...].
I love Peter Keough's idea that the formula of the Quarternionist's beloved Hamilton (i² = j² = k² = ijk = -1) "relates to the structure of the book, each term in the equation applicable to each of the novel’s five sections". I think there's a lot more of this sort of thing going on, and (again) I'd love to read a mathematician's take on it.

~ p. 845: The European Question, "this bad daydream toward which all had been converging, murderous as a locomotive running without lights or signals, unsettling as points thrown at the last minute, awakened from because of some noise out in the larger world, some doorbell or discontented animal, that might remain forever unidentified."

~ p. 867: The description of Penhallow's painting, The Iron Gateway, expresses "his meditation on the fate of Europe" and depicts "shadowy multitudes trooped toward a vanishing line over which broke a hellish radiance." I'm immediately reminded of the vision of the future that the Chums saw from the Time machine--fictional fictional characters peering into the horror of reality.

~ p. 892: So there is doom and gloom, and then this:
"Who, 'Pert? Why she's the most naïvely trusting person I know."

"The woman gets jealous of oatmeal, Hunter." Dally had recently walked in on Ruperta with her face inches from a bowl of steaming porridge, addressing it in a low, vicious snarl [...] while her four-year-old niece Clothilda sat patiently nearby with a spoon and a milk jug.
~ p. 896: Ruperta nearly goes the way of Remedios the Beauty.

~ p. 930: "Frank respected this--who at some point hadn't come to hate the railroad? It penetrated, it broke apart cities and wild herds and watersheds, it created economic panics and armies of jobless men and women, and generations of hard, bleak city-dwellers with no principles who ruled with unchecked power, it took away everything indiscriminately, to be sold, to be slaughtered, to be led beyond the reach of love."

~ p. 934: Anarchists' Golf reminds me of Calvinball.

~ p. 936-37: The map depicting the Renfrew/Werfner "Interdikt" phosgene trap that Lew discovers in London falls into the hands of Cyprian, Yashmeen, and Reef:
Cyprian had been closely scanning the map with a Coddington lens. "Here then, the line-segment of interest seems to be labeled 'Critical Line'--Yashmeen, isn't that Riemann talk?"

She looked. "Except that this one's horizontal, and drawn on a grid of latitude and longitude, instead of real against imaginary values--where Riemann said that all the zeroes of the ζ-function will be found."
The connections don't simply describe each other, they infiltrate meaning.

~ p. 942: Jenny:
"This is our own age of exploration," she declared, "into that unmapped country waiting beyond the frontiers and seas of Time. We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we've seen. What are any of these 'utopian dreams' of ours but defective forms of time-travel?"
~ p. 947: Henry Adams crops up again: there are "dynamos" connected to the Interdikt, tied to the eventual destruction of Europe. (I really do need to find out what else Pynchon has said about him. It's amazing how necessary "The Dynamo and the Virgin" is to understanding what he's up to in this book.)

~ p. 953: The Interdikt's true weapon:
"It seems that isn't a gas weapon, after all," said the motoros. "'Phosgene' is really code for light. We learned it is light here which is really the destructive agent. [...] From military experience with searchlights, it was widely known how effectively light at that candle-power could produce helplessness and fear. The next step was to find away to project it as a stream of destructive energy."

"Fear in lethal form," said Cyprian. "And if all these units, all along this line, went off at once--"

"A great cascade of blindness and terror ripping straight across the heart of the Balkan Peninsula."
~ p. 957: "The Manichæan aspect had grown ever stronger--the obligation of those who took refuge here to be haunted by the unyielding doubleness of everything. Part of the discipline for a postulant was to remain acutely conscious, at every moment of the day, of the nearly unbearable conditions of cosmic struggle between darkness and light proceeding, inescapably, behind the presented world."

~ p. 960: Father Ponko:
"When God hides his face, it is paraphrased as 'taking away' his Shekhinah. Because it is she who reflects his light, Moon to his Sun. Nobody can withstand pure light, let alone see it. Without her to reflect, God is invisible. She is absolutely of the essence if he is to be at all operative in the world."
~ p. 973: "Her love for Ljubica being impenetrable and indivisible as a prime number, other loves must be accordingly reevaluated."

~ p. 983: The meteorites of Mexico: "a gigantic one known as the Chupaderos, whose fragments, weighing in all perhaps fifty tons, had been taken away to the Capital in 1893." Which, of course, was back when our story began, at the World's Fair in Chicago.

~ p. 991-92: Once again, light as flesh:
"In the same way," amplified Günther, "that our Savior could inform his disciples with a straight face that bread and wine were indistinguishable from his body and blood. Light, in any case, among these Indians of Chiapas, occupies an analogous position to flesh among Christian peoples. It is living tissue. As the brain is the outward and visible expression of the Mind."
~ p. 1018: The Chums of Chance "had voted, finally, to disafilliate."

~ p. 1020: "The corollary, Chick had worked out long ago, being that each star and planet we can see in the Sky is but the reflection of our single Earth along a different Minkowskian space-time track. Travel to other worlds is therefore travel to alternate versions of the same Earth. And if going up is like going north, with the common variable being cold, the analogous direction in Time, by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, ought to be from past to future, in the direction of increasing entropy."

~ p. 1023-24: Miles remembers Ryder Thorn and what he wanted him to remember in Flanders, before the beginning of the end:
"Those poor innocencts," he exclaimed in a stricken whisper, as if some blindness had abruptly healed itself, allowing him at last to see the horror transpiring on the ground. "Back at the beginning of this...they must have been boys, so much like us.... They knew they were standing before a great chasm none could see to the bottom of. But they launched themselves into it anyway. Cheering and laughing. It was their own grand 'Adventure.' They were juvenile heroes of a World-Narrative--unreflective and free, they went on hurling themselves into those depths by tens of thousands until one day they awoke, those who were still alive, and instead of finding themselves posed nobly against some dramatic moral geography, they were down cringing in a mud trench swarming with rats and smelling of shit and death."
This novel is (among many other things) a lament for World War I--something the world has never recovered from.

~ p. 1036: Living pictures:
"See, every photographic subject moves," Roswell explained, "even if it's standing still. It breathes, light bounces off, something. Snapping a photograph is like what the math professors call 'differentiating' an equation of motion--freezing that movement into the very small piece of time it takes the shutter to open and close. So we figured--if shooting a photo is like taking a first derivative, then maybe we could find some way to do the reverse of that, start with the still photo and integrate it, recover its complete primative and release it back into action...even back to life..."
~ p. 1048: The potato-salad recipe discussion reminded me of Carl Solomon and the infamous food-fight incident at CCNY around the time (I think) Pynchon was at Cornell.

~ p. 1057: Lake's fate:
Instead she was alone with the sort of recurring dream a long-suffering movie heroine would expect to wake from to find herself pregnant at last.
~ p. 1062: A technological advancement is simply the means by which love can be communicated.

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